ADINKRA SYMBOLS


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Adinkra Symbols

Adinkra are visual symbols which represent concepts or aphorisms.  They are used extensively in fabrics and pottery among the Ashantis of Ashanti Kingdom1 and Baoulés of Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  They are incorporated into walls and other architectural features.  Fabric adinkra are often made by woodcut sign writing as well as screen printing.  Adinkra symbols appear on some traditional Akan gold weights and are also carved on stools for domestic and ritual use.  Tourism has led to new departures in the use of the symbols in such items as T-shirts and jewellery.

These symbols have a decorative function but also represent objects that encapsulate evocative messages conveying traditional wisdom, aspects of life or the environment.  There are many different symbols with distinct meanings, often linked with proverbs.  In the words of Kwame Anthony Appiah (born 1954 CE), they were one of the means in a pre-literate society for 'supporting the transmission of a complex and nuanced body of practice and belief'.

Ashanti oral tradition attributes the origin of Adinkra to Gyaman in modern-day Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire.  The Englishman Thomas Edward Bowdich (1791 - 1824) collected a piece of Adinkra cloth in 1817, which demonstrates that Adinkra art existed at least since this time.  Bowdich obtained this cotton cloth in Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti Empire.  The patterns were printed using carved calabash stamps and a vegetable-based dye.  The cloth features fifteen stamped symbols, including nsroma (stars), dono ntoasuo (double Dono drums), and diamonds -- it is now in the British Museum.

1 The Ashanti (also Asante) Empire (1701 - 1957) was an Akan empire and kingdom in what is now modern-day Ghana.  The Ashanti benefited from adopting firearms, and combined with effective strategy, they fashioned an empire that stretched from central Ghana to the present-day Ivory Coast.  Due to the empire's military prowess, wealth, architecture, sophisticated hierarchy and culture, Ashanti has been extensively studied and has more historiographies by European, primarily British, authors than almost any other indigenous culture of sub-Saharan Africa.

Starting in the late 17th century, the Ashanti King Osei Tutu (c. 1695 - 1717) and his adviser Okomfo Anokye, established the Ashanti Kingdom, with the ‘Golden Stool of Asante’ as a sole unifying symbol.  Osei Tutu oversaw a massive Ashanti territorial expansion, building up the army by introducing new organisation and turning a disciplined royal and paramilitary army into an effective fighting machine.  In 1701, the Ashanti army conquered Denkyira (a powerful nation of Akan people that existed on the Ashantiland peninsula from 1620), giving the Ashanti access to the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean coastal trade with Europeans, notably the Dutch.

The Ashanti Kingdom is the home of Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana's only natural lake.  The state's current economic revenue is derived mainly from trading in gold bars, cocoa, kola nuts and agriculture; forest has also been cleared to plant cassava, maize and yams.  These days the Ashanti Kingdom survives as a constitutionally protected, sub-national proto-state and traditional state in union with the Republic of Ghana.  The current king of the Ashanti Kingdom is Otumfuo Osei Tutu II Asantehene.

Adrinka Symbols


ABAN

'Fortress'

A symbol of strength and authority.


ABEDUA

'Palm Tree'

A symbol of wealth, resourcefulness, and self-sufficiency.


ADINKRAHENE

'Chief of the Adinkra Symbols'

A symbol of greatness, charisma and leadership.


ADINKRAHENE DUA

'Greatness, Royalty'

The Adinkra King Stamp signifies greatness and royalty.


ADWERA

'Watery Shrub'


A symbol which signifies chastity, along with good fortune, sanctity, and cleanliness.


ADWO

'Peace, Tranquility, and Quietness'.


AGYINDUWURA

'Faithfulness, Alertness, Dutifulness'.

This signifies a sense of obligation -- it can also show alertness and faith.


AKOBEN

'War Horn' -- a symbol of vigilance and awareness.

The Akoben is a horn used to sound a battle cry.


AKOFENA

'Sword of War'

A symbol of courage, valour, and heroism.


AKOKO NAN

'The Leg of a Hen

A symbol of nurturing and discipline.


AKOMA

'The Heart'

A symbol of patience and tolerance.


AKOMA NTOSO

'Linked Hearts'

A symbol of understanding and agreement.


ANANSE NTONTAN

'Spider's web'

A symbol of wisdom, creativity and the complexities of life.  (The spider known as Ananse is a well-known character in African folklore.)


ANIBERE

'Seriousness'

This symbol means seriousness and symbolises diligence and perseverance.


ASASE YE DURU

'The Earth has Weight'

A symbol of providence and the divinity of Mother Earth.


AYA

'Fern'

A symbol of endurance and resourcefulness.


BESE SAKA

'Sack of Cola Nuts'

A symbol of affluence, power, abundance, plenty, togetherness and unity.


BI NKA BI

'No one should bite the other'

A symbol of peace and harmony.


BOA ME NA ME MMOA WO

'Help me and let me help you'

This is a symbol of cooperation and interdependence.


DABI ME NSORO MO BEPUE

'My Star will Shine one day'

This symbol depicts the seed in a fruit waiting to bloom.


DAME-DAME

'Name of a Board Game'

It is a symbol of intelligence and ingenuity.


DENKYEM

'Crocodile'

A symbol of adaptability.  (The crocodile lives in water, yet breathes air, demonstrating an ability to adapt to different environments and circumstances.)


DUAFE

'Wooden Comb'

A symbol of beauty and cleanliness; symbols of desirable feminine qualities.


DUNO

'Drum for Praise'


DWENNIMMEN

'Ram's Horns'

A symbol of humility together with strength.


EBAN

'Fence'

A symbol of love, safety and security -- the home to the Akan is a special place, so a home which has a fence around it is considered to be an ideal residence.


EPA

'Handcuffs'

A symbol of law and justice, slavery and captivity.


ESE NE TEKREMA

'The teeth and the tongue'

A symbol of friendship and interdependence.


FAFANTO

'Tenderness, Gentleness'


FAWOHODIE

'Independence'

A symbol of independence, freedom, emancipation.


FIHANKRA

'House, Compound'

A symbol of security and safety.


FOFO

'Yellow flowered plant'

A symbol of jealousy and envy -- when the fofo's petals drop, they turn into black spiky-like seeds, so the Akan liken the nature of this plant to a jealous person.


FUNTUNFUNEFU-DENKYEMFUNEFU

'Siamese Crocodiles'

A symbol of democracy and unity.


GYE NYAME


'Except for God'

A symbol of the supremacy of God.


HWE MU DUA


'Measuring Stick'

A symbol of examination and quality control.


HYE WON HYE


'That which does not burn'

A symbol of imperishability and endurance.


KAE ME

'Loyalty, Faithfulness'

Remember me.


KETE PA

'Good Bed'

A symbol of a good marriage.


KINTINKANTAN

'Puffed up extravagance'

A symbol of arrogance.


KOJO BAIDEN

'Cosmos, Omnipresence'

Rays.


KONTIRE NE AKWAMU

'Reliance, Democracy'


One head does not make up council..


KRADO

'The Court's Authority'


Seal of Law & Order.


KRAMO BONE

'Warning Against Deception and Hypocrisy'

The bad make it difficult for the good to be noticed.


KWATAKYE ATIKO

'Hair style of an Asante war Captain'

A symbol of bravery and valour.


MATE MASIE

'What I hear, I keep'

A symbol of wisdom, knowledge and prudence.


ME WARE WO

'I shall marry you'

A symbol of commitment and perseverance.


MENSO WO KENTEN

'Hard Work, Self-reliance'

A symbol of industry, self-reliance, and economic self-determination.


MFRAMADAN

'Wind-resistant house'

A symbol of fortitude and readiness to face life's vicissitudes.


MMERE DANE

'Time changes'


A symbol of change, life's dynamics.


MMOMUDWAN

'Unity'


Unity, togetherness.


MMRA KRADO

'The Court's Authority, Law and Order'

Seal of Law and Order.


MMUSUYIDEE

'That which removes bad luck'


A symbol of good furtune and sanctity.


MPATAPO

'Knot of pacification/reconciliation'


A symbol of reconciliation, peace-making and pacification.


MPUANNUM

'Five tufts" (of hair)'


A symbol of priestly office, loyalty and adroitness.


NEA ONNIM NO SUA A OHU

'He who does not know can know from learning'

A symbol of knowledge, life-long education and continued quest for knowledge.


NEA OPE SE OBEDI HENE

'He who wants to be king'


A symbol of service and leadership.


NKONSONKONSON

'Chain Link'

A symbol of unity and human relations.


NKYIMU

'Skillfulness, Precision'

These are the crossed divisions made on Adinkra cloth before printing.


NKYINKYIM

'Twisting'

A symbol depicting the twists and turns in the journey of life.


NNONNOWA

'Double Drum'

Valour, strength.


NSAA

'A type of hand-woven fabric'

A symbol of excellence, genuineness, authenticity.


NSOROMMA

'Child of the heavens (stars)'

A symbol of guardianship.


NYA ABOTERE

'Patience, Calmness'

Be Patient.


NYAME AKRUMA

'Stealth, Righteous Might'

God's axe.


NYAME BIRIBI WO SORO

'God is in the heavens'

A symbol of hope.


NYAME DUA

'Tree of god - altar'

A symbol of God's presence and protection.


NYAME NNWU NA MAWU

'Life after Death'

God never dies, therefore I cannot die.


NYAME NTI

'By God's Grace'

A symbol of faith and trust in God.


NYAME YE OHENE

'God is King'

A symbol of majesty and the supremacy of God.


NYANSAPO

'Wisdom Knot'

A symbol of wisdom, ingenuity, intelligence and patience.


ODO NNYEW FIE KWAN

'Love never loses its way home'

A symbol of the power of love.


OHENE TUO

'Greatness'

The king's gun.


OKODEE MMOWERE


'The talons of the eagle'


A symbol of strength, bravery, power.


OKUAFO PA


'Hardwork, Entrepreneurship, Industry, Productivity'

Good Farmer.


ONYAKOPON ANIWA


'Omnipresence of God'


God's eye.


ONYANKOPON ADOM NTI BIRIBIARA BEYE YIE

'By God's grace, all will be well'


A symbol of hope, providence and faith.


OSRAM NE NSOROMMA

'The Moon and the Star'



A symbol of love, faithfulness and harmony.


OWIA KOKROKO

'Vitality'



Vitality and renewal.


OWO FORO ADOBE

'Steadfastness, Prudence, Diligence, Performing the Impossible'

Snake climbing the palm tree.


OWUO ATWEDEE

'The ladder of death'



A symbol of mortality.


OWUO KUM NYAME

'Death Killed God'

Invincibility of Death, the Power of God to overcome death.


PA GYA

'Striking of Fire'

War.


PEMPAMSIE

'Sew in readiness'

A symbol of readiness, steadfastness and hardiness.


SANKOFA

'Return and get it'

A symbol of importance of learning from the past.


SEPOW

'Knife'


Justice.


SESA WO SUBAN

'Change or transform your character'

A symbol of life transformation.


TABON

'Paddle'


Courage, hard work.


TAMFO BEBRE

'The enemy will stew in his own juice'

A symbol of jealousy and envy.


TUMI TE SE KOSUA

'Delicacy of Political Power, Fragility of Democracy, Restraint'


Power is like an egg.


TUO NE AKOFENA

'Power, Responsibility, Authority, Legitimacy, National Security and Protection, Military Prowess'

The State gun and sword.


UAC NKANEA

'UAC Lights'



A symbol of technical advancement.


WAWA ABA

'Seed of the Wawa Tree'



A symbol of hardiness, toughness and perseverance.


WO NSA DA MU A

'If your hands are in the dish'

A symbol of participatory government, democracy and pluralism.


WOFORO DUA PA A

'When you climb a good tree'

A symbol of support, cooperation and encouragement.




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